Interfaith Power & Light is working to help congregations be models of energy efficiency, utilize renewable energy, and to lead by showing a strong example of stewardship of Creation. As communities of faith organizing a religious response to global warming, we believe that climate disruption is among the greatest challenges that humanity has ever encountered. We commit ourselves to the moral imperative of preserving and protecting the planet for generations to come. IPL advocates for energy policies that reduce greenhouse gas pollution, protect the health, beauty and integrity of God’s Creation, support the health of human communities, and promote the use of clean energy.
IPL strongly supports energy efficiency and conservation policies and practices as the fastest, cheapest, and cleanest way to reduce emissions.
IPL energy efficiency and conservation translate directly into fewer emissions of harmful chemicals into Earth’s atmosphere, water, soil, flora, fauna and human communities. Energy bills can also drain significant amounts of money from a congregation’s budget. Energy Efficiency and conservation go a long way to demonstrating good stewardship of Earth, while also saving costs.
It is important to remember that energy efficiency and water conservation go hand in hand. “Water is needed to generate energy. Energy is needed to deliver water. Both resources are limiting the other-and both may be running short.” – Michael Webber, Scientific American
Water and wastewater utilities are typically the largest consumers of energy in municipalities, often accounting for 30-40 percent of total energy consumed according the Environmental Protection Agency. Pursuing energy efficiency at our water sector systems can significantly reduce operating costs, while mitigating the effects of climate change.
Putting a Price on Carbon
Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) supports putting a price on carbon pollution that will put downward pressure on emissions. This can be accomplished through policies like carbon taxes, carbon fees, a limited number of carbon credits sold at auction, or cap and trade systems. All of these systems help “correct” the market in which carbon pollution is essentially free. And if the revenue raised from the carbon tax or fee is invested in climate solutions like energy efficiency and renewables, there is even more benefit for the climate.
The down side of putting a price on carbon is that it can raise energy prices, which will disproportionately affect low-income people, making it a form of regressive tax. In order to address this possible negative outcome IPL advocates for an equity principle in any carbon pricing program. Such a social justice element could be an auction of emissions credits, for example, with some revenue earmarked for weatherization for low-income households (to reduce the cost of energy), or for energy efficiency programs, or green jobs training.
A price on carbon must be designed so that it rapidly cuts carbon pollution and protects low-income citizens from an unfair cost burden. It can be used in conjunction with other mechanisms such as the EPA rules on power plant emissions.
IPL supports a price on carbon as an essential step in creating a level playing field for energy production and addressing global warming. This effort can be part of an overall program to improve energy efficiency and replace fossil fuels with clean energy, which will have long-term economic, environmental and social benefits. As people of faith, we must speak up and change the current system to one that is in keeping with our responsibility to be stewards of Creation.
There are existing carbon pricing systems at the state and regional levels working now. Below are the two major programs in the U.S. that IPL supports:
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)
This is multistate cap-and-trade program established in 2005 that covers emissions from in-state power plants that are at least 25 megawatts. Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in RGGI.
RGGI held its first auction of CO2 allowances in 2008. As of 2014, RGGI has held 24 quarterly auctions, selling more than half a million allowances and collecting nearly $1 billion in auction revenue.
California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32)
California’s comprehensive climate law, passed in 2006, caps emissions economy-wide in order to cut emissions to the 1990 level by 2020. It targets greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production, fuels, cars, trucks and other sources. To achieve the reductions, the system incorporates regulations, planning, energy efficiency, renewable energy and tradable carbon credits sold at auction. California’s carbon auction is already bringing in over $1 billion per year, and 10% of the revenue is designated for programs to benefit disadvantaged, low-income communities. [/expand]
Transportation accounts for nearly a third of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Most vehicles produce several times their weight in carbon pollution each year from the dirty fuels on which we depend. These emissions are not only contributing greatly to global warming, but they’re polluting our air and compromising our health. By addressing the transportation sector, we have the opportunity to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future while improving Americans’ health and quality of life. We will simultaneously decrease our dependence on foreign oil, reduce our trade deficit and increase our energy security.
Interfaith Power & Light advocates for transportation policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide affordable transit options, protect the most vulnerable among us, and support the health of our communities. We also realize that the needs of urban and rural communities may differ and all of these needs must be taken into consideration in moving toward transportation policies that look to the future.
IPL supports transportation policies that improve efficiency and reduce emissions of transportation including cars, trucks, trains and aircraft. This includes fuel efficiency standards for all vehicle classes and a rapid transition to low-carbon fuels, support for R&D around electric vehicles and responsibly produced biofuels, and funding for effective mass transit, while addressing transportation needs in rural areas. IPL supports policies that advance smart local land use planning that reduces reliance on the automobile and improves livability. IPL also supports funding to redesign existing and new roadways to support safe walking and bicycling. IPL does not support subsidizing fossil fuel extraction or pricing fossil fuels without factoring in the costs of climate and public health impacts.
Transportation policies that reduce pollution, improve fuel efficiency, provide better transportation choices, and encourage healthy communities are a vital component of a clean energy future.
As communities of faith organizing a religious response to global warming, we believe that climate disruption is among the greatest challenges that humanity has ever encountered. We commit ourselves to the moral imperative of preserving and protecting the planet for generations to come. There can be no effective strategy to address climate disruption without significant restructuring of our electricity production including a rapid and just transition from antiquated coal power generation.
The current technology of burning coal to produce electricity carries huge societal costs around air and water pollution and is one of the most significant drivers of climate disruption. These external costs are not captured in the price of coal power. Every step of the current coal-fired process is dangerous to human health, from mining and processing to burning and storage of waste ash. Those most often impacted by these dangerous processes are the most vulnerable members of our communities: the poor, the elderly, and children.
Science clearly indicates that we must reduce our output of carbon dioxide and other global warming pollution. Transitioning away from coal and other fossil fuels is a crucial step in mitigating climate disruption. In the United States that means we must halt the construction of all new coal power plants unless and until we can conclusively demonstrate safe and affordable carbon capture and storage. Existing coal plants utilizing 20th century technology should be phased out as quickly as possible as we transition to clean energy and become more energy efficient.
We know that all forms of coal mining are dangerous, imperil human health, and degrade landscapes and human communities. Particularly egregious is mountaintop removal mining, which has permanently destroyed over 500 mountains and 1500 miles of streams, while putting human communities in Appalachia in harm’s way from toxins in their air and water. We therefore oppose mountaintop removal mining and advocate for its immediate discontinuation.
We also oppose the export of coal from the United States to be burned in Asia. Shipping coal from Montana and Wyoming on uncovered trains to ports in the Pacific Northwest or Gulf Coast would cause immediate and devastating health, environmental, transportation, and community impacts along the rail route, in addition to air, water, and climate pollution generated by burning the coal.
As we transition to clean energy, we must work to remediate and restore the land and communities that have been degraded and economically exploited from coal mining, shipping, and burning. We support programs to provide jobs training to displaced coal workers and restoration of degraded lands.
While we recognize this transition is complex and will require significant investments, we have great faith in the ingenuity and spirit of America. We have come together many times in the past in the face of adversity and challenge. We believe we can come together for a shared purpose to make this transition to clean energy and offer a bright future for our children and grandchildren.
Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) strongly opposes the mining and exploitation of Canada’s tar sands oil because of the unprecedented risk it poses to Earth’s climate.
IPL also stands in opposition of the oil’s transportation across America’s heartland in the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to Texas ports for refining and distribution to overseas markets.
IPL is joining with other faith leaders and environmental organizations in asking President Obama to deny Transcanada’s permit to construct the pipeline. IPL’s concerns are backed by the newly released, taxpayer supported, National Climate Assessment report. It’s the product of thirteen top federal agencies and their scientists, backed by a $2 billion dollar annual budget. It was produced for the president and Congress to inform policy decisions. Deciding the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline is just such a decision. According to the report, climate change will have severe impacts on ecosystems, infrastructures, and human health if we continue on the current path of heavy fossil fuel consumption. It also underscores that the decisions made today will determine how much climate change will disrupt the future.
The majority of confirmed tar sands deposits are under the boreal forests of Alberta, Canada. The boreal forests represent 25 percent of the intact, original forests on the planet and are a global resource for filtering the Earth’s water, removing carbon from the atmosphere, and regulating the climate. This region of Alberta is also home to the First Nations indigenous peoples of Canada, who are greatly affected by the mining of tar sands. They are also standing in opposition to the further development of tar sands because of the harm that occurs to their native lands, the animals that share the land, and their traditional hunting and fishing economy.
The mining of tar sands is a resource intensive process that emits up to three times the carbon of conventional oil. The production of tar sands to liquid fuel requires natural gas to create steam that literally melts the tar off the sand. The recovered crude then needs to be refined. In the end, for every barrel of syncrude produced, around four barrels of water and 1,200 cubic feet of natural gas are required. The dirty wastewater is often pumped into enormous holding reservoirs, which pollute the environment with toxic substances that are dangerous to human health and wildlife populations. Communities located in proximity to current tar sands operations have experienced elevated cancer rates.
The focus on obtaining liquid fuel from tar sands is a serious and costly diversion from America’s responsibility to lead the way toward a clean energy future. We cannot afford to become dependent on yet another dirty source of fuel. Instead,IPL urges a focus on transportation solutions such as better vehicle fuel efficiency, alternative fuels, more funding for mass transit, and electric cars.
Interfaith Power & Light works to promote ethical, moral, just and sound solutions to global warming and energy needs. The urgency of the climate crisis demands a rapid transition to clean, safe, cost-effective energy sources. While nuclear power plants release no carbon dioxide, there is no nuclear technology being used for energy that meets these criteria.
For the following reasons, IPL does not believe building new nuclear plants presents a viable solution to global warming.
Cost and Timeline: The high cost and long time frame required to build new nuclear plants is prohibitive, given the immediacy of global warming. Energy efficiency and conservation are the fastest, cleanest, and cheapest ways to achieve significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions and this should be our first focus. Taking into account the entire life cycle of mining uranium (a nonrenewable resource) and disposing of the waste, nuclear power production is neither clean nor renewable. Investing billions of dollars in this technology drains funds away from much more cost effective, rapidly deployable, and truly renewable alternatives, such as wind, geothermal, and solar power. (For more information on cost, please see economic studies referenced below)
Safety: From mining uranium to the end of the fuel cycle the technology is not safe. Until scientists find a safe way to deal with radioactive waste generated at every phase, building more nuclear power plants would be irresponsible to present and future generations. The link to weapons proliferation and terrorism cannot be avoided. Placing dangerous nuclear materials in the midst of our communities poses an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic event. Such an event could be a massive release of radiation due to a plant meltdown or a terrorist attack, and could kill tens of thousands of people as well as poison large areas with radioactivity for millennia.
Justice: As people of faith, we believe in justice that transcends generations, race and class. Our indigenous brothers and sisters and economically poor communities in the US and throughout the world carry a disproportionate burden of past uranium mining legacies and end waste that pollute water and harm health. Passing on radioactive materials, with a half-life of 100,000 years, to thousands of generations to come is a profound moral failure. Even a small accident could cause the contamination of groundwater for 300,000 years.
As an additional justice issue, nuclear power plants require enormous amounts of fresh water, a precious resource whose growing scarcity is increasingly at the heart of resource conflicts and the suffering of humans and other species.
Therefore, IPL urges a redoubled focus on energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable resources to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
The Rocky Mountain Institute has conducted extensive economic analysis of the cost of nuclear compared to renewables. See: “The Nuclear Illusion” By Amory Lovins and Imran Sheikh.
The Nuclear Policy Research Institute and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research have published an excellent book detailing the possibilities for reaching a carbon free future without nuclear energy: Carbon Free and Nuclear Free, A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy by Arjun Makhijani.
Taxpayers for Common Sense has documented the often overlooked and exorbitant costs the U.S. taxpayers would be asked to absorb in the event of a nuclear accident.
Renewable Energy Standard (RES)
Natural Gas Development and Hydraulic Fracturing
Water, air and land are sacred trusts within all faith traditions. As a transition to renewable energies, natural gas has the potential to provide lower greenhouse gas emissions than other fossil fuels. However, without reasonable regulation and proper oversight, poorly drilled wells spill into groundwater and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Therefore, it’s critical to understand these shortcomings to determine if natural gas offers a net gain over coal in terms of fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and fewer environmental and health safety risks.
In hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, a hole is drilled deep into underground shale rock, and millions of gallons of water, sand and “injections chemicals” are pumped into the ground to fracture the shale at high pressure and access the gas.
In most jurisdictions, companies are not required to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking. Some of the chemicals are toxic or carcinogenic, such as hydrochloric acid, Ammonium Chloride, and Methanol. The water returning to the surface can also carry heavy metals, high levels of salts and radioactive elements. Some companies reveal their unique blend of fracking fluids that they inject into the ground, others do not. Fracfocus.org maintains a database of injection chemicals by well site voluntarily provided by participating oil and natural gas operators. Fracking fluid can stay in the ground or flow back to the surface. What does come back up through the well is referred to as flowback. This can be stored in containment ponds, injected back into the ground, or loaded into tanker trucks for disposal elsewhere. A small portion of the toxic flowback is suitable for recycling. Storage of flowback is another major issue risk associated with fracking that needs to be understood and regulated.
Tragically, the fracking is not regulated by federal statutes governing water safety, because industry lobbyists obtained an exemption from this law, known as the “Halliburton loophole.” US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not regulate either the methane emissions or the groundwater impact of fracking, leaving states with the burden of monitoring the activities of approximately 40,000 well sites across the nation. With shrinking state budgets, the situation is an environmental regulators worst-case scenario. IPL strongly supports national safeguards on hydraulic fracturing practices.
Time is of the essence in releasing these national safeguards. A May 2011 study from Duke University found potentially explosive levels of methane in drinking water supplies located close to natural gas wells. A June 2011 study by researchers from the US Forest Service showed that two years after fracking wastewater was legally spread on a section of National Forest, more than half of the trees in the affected area were dead.
Interfaith Power & Light believes we need additional safeguards in place to ensure natural gas as a viable transitional energy source from coal to renewable energy. At this time these include:
- Disclosure of the composition and safety of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.
- An effective regulatory structure to protect human health, the climate, and water and air quality. This includes appropriate resources to allow agencies to enforce regulations.
- Financial assurance requirements that guarantee that industry resources are available to remediate any impacts from potential accidents.
- Development and use of drilling company best-practice standards that address things such as well casing construction, plugging of wells, wastewater treatment and storage, and technologies that minimizes the leakage of natural gas emissions from drilling and pipeline facilities.
- A ban on natural gas drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, such as areas of unique public benefit and fragile ecosystems.
Interfaith Power & Light supports renewable energy, efficiency and conservation. Natural gas development should not distract America’s movement to a renewable energy future.
To learn more about federal climate legislation, visit US Climate Action Network.